Patna stampede - why lessons learnt are forgotten?

 

The Gandhi Maidan stampede on the eve of Dussehra which has claimed 33 lives till now comes barely two years after the stampede that occurred at the Adalat Ghat during Chhath Puja celebration. The routine followed after the Chhath Puja stampede were usual in the Indian scenario - first the stampede happens, then even before the name of the deceased are made public, compensations (ex-gratia) pours in along with announcement of an "inquiry" into the incident, some officials are made scapegoat and transferred, few months later newspaper reports the submission of investigation to the government and finally no one hears anything about any action taken thereafter. Only reminiscence remains the vigilance on the anniversary eve, which too diminishes in the subsequent years - thus the venue again waiting for next stampede to happen. The Gandhi Maidan stampede clearly shows how the lessons learnt during the last stampede were forgotten or ill-implemented.

It seems unlikely that the authorities had any plan of mass management when one third of the city's population was gathered at a single venue (As per 2011 census, the city's population was just above 16 lakh and around 5 lakh people were present at the Gandhi Maidan on that fateful day). Ofcourse when an incident of such magnitude happens, press scrutiny brings much more information that in normal case would not have been come to the surface - like only twenty percent of the lights (eg. high-mast, street light etc) were functional, majority of the government official including police were busy in regulating VIP movement after the ceremony, Frazer road was blocked for well over 15 minutes for VIP movement when thousands of people were leaving the venue simultaneously etc. All these things points to only one thing - there was nothing called people management at the venue. If the official claims that there was indeed, then they forget to add that it was reserved for VIPs.

A big question being circulated is whether the administration expected such a large crowd? The official answer may be ambiguous but there is no denying fact the Ravan Vadh ceremony is attended by large number of people, and this is not a fact which has suddenly become apparent this year. It is known to every person in the city and everyone coming for the ceremony expects a huge turnout, unless the weather is bad. It might be that the administration had put the scarce resources at the privilege of the VIPs, leaving people to cater for themselves, as has been the normal scenario. Then, was the administration anticipating for such stampede to happen, lest not put the resource crunch before the government at the outset? This can not be rejected out rightly as the proper arrangement for mass management was completely overlooked. Another important question arises whether there was adequate security arrangement for the public in general. It has not been long since more than a  dozen low explosive bombs had rocked the PM Narendra Modi's election rally at the Gandhi Maidan. ( read : Blast is BJP's 'Hunkar Rally'). In the present time, when the terrorists aims to causes maximum public casualty, the question of security arrangement requires proper attention. Was there any manual frisking or metal detectors or sniffer dogs at the venue? The administration might give the excuse of presence of a large number of people. But again, aren't terrorist organizations looking for such vulnerabilities? Instead of the stampede that happened due to a false rumour at the Gandhi Maidan, an explosion or more at the venue during the climax of the ceremony would had triggered panic causing casualty at an un-imaginable level. The Hunkar Rally was attended by much less number of people that Ravan Vadh ceremony - the result would have been devastating.

The stampede clearly shows the lack of any robust plan in mass management despite the lessons learnt during the Chhath stampede and Hunkar Rally blast. The recommendations are buried and actions forgotten - to be remembered only when the next such thing happens. The blame game continues but no one takes responsibility for such incidents or lapse of arrangements. The attitude of "chalta hai" or "such incidents will keep happening" reflects the deep instincts of the society at large, where the blame is squarely put on public themselves. Isn't it right to discontinue such ceremonies attended by thousands of people where the administration is incapable of providing proper arrangement due to resource or fund crunch? Ofcourse religious sentiments gets hurt, but lives are more important than the rituals.

 

[Nov 2014]